Can it really be summer without summer camp? For many of our community’s children and teens, the two go hand in hand. We are fortunate to have several excellent Jewish camping options within easy driving distance. Camp Laurelwood, located in Madison, is Connecticut's premier Jewish co-ed overnight camp – and it has provided Jewish-infused summer fun for 84 years. Below, the camp's executive director, Rabbi James Greene, fills us in on this year's joyous return to camp after a pandemic hiatus. Rabbi Greene is pleased to report that Laurelwood's rigorous testing, masking, and social distancing protocols have kept campers and staff COVID-free all summer.
Jewish camping is back up and running again in Connecticut – and that means Camp Laurelwood is back in session! Our community is back home after 22 months, and the traditions of our 84-year history are in full swing. Although it has been a long and challenging journey, we are thrilled to be back at camp and enjoying the summer we promised our campers last year, before the pandemic uprooted life as we know it.
Throughout this summer, our community has been tested and stretched in new ways. We returned to old routines like games in the dining hall, song sessions on Friday nights, and Havdalah led by our oldest campers. We also returned to familiar spaces like our T pool, the ropes course, the chuppah, and the bunks across camp.
Our community grew and learned resilience. Our staff team supported homesick campers, who learned to form a kinder and more caring community; and we all made new friends and gained new skills.
As our campers found joy, fun, and happiness, camp has served as a wonderful reprieve from the challenges of the past year. Together, we are as busy as ever: swimming, zipping, dancing, singing, and playing! We are naming new captains and generals in our color wars, creating new plaques for our dining hall, and writing new alma maters to sing in the years ahead.
As a newer member of the Camp Laurelwood family, I’ve personally found Shabbat to be one of the most special times. It is where the magic of camp comes to life – where we celebrate the uniqueness of our community. Shabbat also serves as a welcome opportunity to take a breath. Weeks here at camp are full of nonstop fun and activity. And as we head into Friday night, there is the push and pull of excitement and energy as the ruach (spirit) of camp hits a peak. All at once, camp is buzzing with excitement for Shabbat services, dinner, and Friday night song sessions. And simultaneously, we’re looking forward to sleeping in and a late, delicious breakfast on Saturday morning. (Click here for a video of this summer's first Shabbat at Camp Laurelwood.)
This summer, we also celebrated the arrival of a new Torah scroll. This Torah, which came to us from the Jewish Foundation and Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, is just another reminder of the power of our community. Together with our counselors and cornerstone fellows, we rolled out the Torah over our campers as a reminder of the ways in which they are the inheritors of this beautiful camp that has been lovingly cared for over generations.
In years to come, we hope to see more members of our community at camp for homemade challah fresh from our kitchen, matzah ball soup, and roasted chicken on Friday nights. We can’t wait to see you wearing white on our Shabbat walks, or singing your heart out at song sessions. Until then, we are sharing this story with you and sending you love, Shabbat-o-grams, and songs from Camp Laurelwood! - Rabbi James Greene, Executive Director
Photos, from top: Rabbi James Greene leads campers on a Shabbat walk, and campers unroll the new Camp Laurelwood Torah scroll. Images and video courtesy of Camp Laurelwood.